The term “simulacrum” may be defined as “something that looks like or represents something else” (Cambridge, 2019). It is important to note, that the term simulacrum never pertains to an original, and that a simulacrum may not be connected to the original past the superficial. A simulacrum is its own individual concept or thing.
In this video by Idea Channel (PBS Studios, 2019), host Mike Rugnetta posits that the popular television show “Orphan Black” is a perfect representation of what a simulacrum is. The show exhibits six women who are cloned from the same DNA. Each has an entirely separate personality, and context, and are thus simulacra of the original. This idea is reinforced by the distance between the personalities shown from the simulacra. Each display vastly different levels of intelligence, practicality, ambition and empathy. They each represent the original, and yet provide their own individuality (a concept which is challenged as the show progresses).
However, this is not the only level of simulation present. It could be said, that as it derives from a number of creative practises and inspirations, the show itself is a simulacra of media tropes. The familial connection between clones, and the struggle against a faceless ‘corporation’ entity, as well as the central theme of freedom; to choose, and from sickness. Thus does this work emulate the original concept of these themes, and yet become its own self in the doing so.
In a necessary divergence, I also want to explore the simulation of an essence. For in the creative industries, we do not only look to a single work for our inspiration, but rather a succession of pieces, all with their own inspirations. As a game developer, I may create a work based upon the taming system present in Dark and Light (Snail, 2019). However, Dark and Light was inspired by the game ARK : Survival Evolved (Instinct Games, 2019). The taming of ARK was in turn inspired by Tamagotchi (Tamagotchi, 2019), and Pokemon (The Pokemon Company, 1996), as well as a myriad of other sources. Each of these games is its own item, with its own essence, however it simulates the essence and mechanics of its predecessors.
So too does Orphan Black, building upon works such as The Four Sided Triangle (Fisher, 1953), Doctor Who (Newman, 1963) and The Boys from Brazil (Schaffner, 1978), all notable works centred around the concept of cloning. Orphan Black establishes its own identity when its other contextual influences are considered, such as its Canadian setting, dark tone and mystery-thriller genre. Each works to shape this show using conventions drawn from mass media.
A question to ask is: are the themes and concepts that are passed from piece to piece evolving or diminishing with their travel? Does a simulacrum change in value compared to its original, and if so is this change in value consistent? Will a simulacrum always be better/worse than its predecessor.
To answer these, I look to focus upon Orphan Black, as to make sweeping generalisations will not further this discussion at all. Here we see an original being, with at least 11 clones. Each clone sharing an appearance, but not a personality. To answer the above questions in this regard, we have to look at how we value a human being. Do we place higher value upon Sarah, the con-artist? If so, we are valuing cunning, and practicality, and no small element of empathy. Or we may look at Helena, a clone driven to the edge of psychosis who only wishes to kill Sarah. We may value her strength and will to live, yet deride her bloodlust and lack of empathy.
To look at these simulacra in comparison to the “original being” of the show, we can make no sure measurement of change in value, therefore I posit that in determining its own individuality, a simulacrum becomes incomparable to its original, yet perhaps comparable to its fellow simulacra. This is comparable to a “favourite child” scenario. You do not compare the child to its parent, but to its fellow children.
If you’re feeling mean that is.
Lastly, we may look at the clear definition Orphan Black makes between its clones, and their foci. As we look at the clones, we can see that they are clearly delineated into discrete social constructs. We have The Con (Sarah), The Cop (Beth), The Scientist (Rachel), The Mother (Alison), The Fighter (Helena) and The Techie (Mika). Each of these clones has been given the stereotypical context to allow them to flourish within these roles, something which is too defined to be coincidence. Thus proceeding with the assumption of authors intent, we can see how the creators of Orphan Black have explored the deviation of the original. In the words of Mike Rugnetta, “a simulacrum is still a representation or depiction of something, its relationship to its source is … weirded up” (PBS, 2019). In Orphan Black, I believe we see a group of creators seeing precisely how far, and weird, they can separate the child from the parent. References Dark and Light - Official Website. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.playdnl.com/
Dictionary, S. (2019). SIMULACRUM | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary. Retrieved from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/simulacrum
Evolved, A. (2019). ARK: Survival Evolved on Steam. Retrieved from https://store.steampowered.com/app/346110/ARK_Survival_Evolved/
Franklin J. Schaffner. (1978). The Boys from Brazil [DVD].
Tamagotchi. (2019). Retrieved from http://www.bandai.com/tamagotchi/
PBS Studios. (2019). How is Orphan Black an illustration of a simulacrum? [Image]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=86&v=Eg7Z_28Uk6g
Sydney Newman. (1963). Doctor Who [DVD].
Terence Fisher. (1953). The Four Sided Triangle [DVD].
WELCOME TO POKEMON.COM. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.pokemon.com/country_no_trans/au/